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High or Low Income - Families With Children Still Pay the Price

Posted: 28/10/2012 23:00

In the shadow of government claims that it is keen to cut a further £10 billion from the welfare budget - on top of the £18 billion of cuts already announced - two issues have dominated recent media debates about government spending on children.

First, there has been a lot of disquiet about the forthcoming withdrawal of child benefit from higher earning families - due to be implemented from 7 January next year - with particular concern expressed about the lack of awareness of the policy among those affected, and the potential for 'confusion and muddle' when it kicks in.

Second, Work & Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has faced strong criticism over his suggestion that government financial support for children - it's unclear yet whether he means child benefit, child tax credit, both, or a wider combination of benefits - should be capped at two children for families on benefits.

On the face of it, of course, these look like very different stories - one targeted at the highest earners and framed around the rhetoric of ensuring that 'we are all in this together'; and the other targeted at those on the lowest incomes and aiming to use economic levers to incentivise (or disincentivise) certain behaviour. And when looking at the child benefit cut, it may seem obvious to many that of course the government should take money from higher earners in a difficult economic environment - indeed, there will be precious little sympathy from those struggling on low incomes for a cut which only affects those earning over £50K a year.

But if you look beyond the headlines then the common thread through these debates is that, at heart, they're about taking money away from children.

There is still support - including politically - for universal benefits for pensioners (bus passes, winter fuel payments, and the like), with a clear understanding that these benefits in part recognise the contribution that older people have made to society throughout their lifetime.

But in contrast, there is a curious absence of any recognition that children, too, will make a contribution to society over their future lifetimes as citizens and taxpayers of the future. Politicians and commentators alike therefore ignore the value there is in contributing to the cost of their upbringing from a straightforward economic perspective - as well as the value in its own right of ensuring that children have what they need for a childhood free from poverty.

Indeed, somewhat extraordinarily, the impact on children themselves has been fairly absent from these discussions, which have focused squarely on political choices and parental decision-making. And it's this that should worry us most. For when we're faced with forecasts of rising child poverty, and when cuts across the income spectrum are biting hardest on families with children, it's vital that at the heart of the debate is what this means for children themselves. Now is the time that we need to hear from children directly - before decisions are made and their lives are affected.

 

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